Monday, 30 June 2014

What if a writer really used what if?

Writers are often told to use 'what if?' as a tool to imagination. I did that to great effect when creating Vlad, the eponymous hero of my children's novel. Barbara Scott-Emmett invited me onto her blog to guest post on the subject of using: what if?

You can read the post here.

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Friday, 27 June 2014

Writing for Children - Tip 2

I received lots of positive feedback on my first post on this topic. I hope you find this week's offering useful, too. If you have any questions on writing for children, or any other writing-related subject, feel free to comment below, or use the Ask a Question button in the top left corner of the website.

Tip Two - Read Before You Write

One of the best ways to learn how to write for children is to read the finest the market has to offer.

Try making a list of the authors that children like, not those that adults claim young readers want. Ask every child you know, your own children or grandchildren, and those of friends and neighbours, who their favourite writer is, and then read as many books as you can by those authors.

Ask your local librarian which are the most requested authors. Which writers do children return to again and again?

Visit Lovereading4kids and read the opening pages of popular books.

Make notes as you read about the aspects that made the characters come alive, or what it was that made the story so exciting.

How did the writers end each chapter so that you felt compelled to continue reading?

Broaden your horizons and read outside of the genre and age group for which you intend to write. Try to get a feel for the length each age group requires.

Study the story structure. How is the excitement level maintained?

By reading and learning from the masters of your craft it becomes easier to write convincingly. At first you might find yourself copying another author’s style, but persevere, and your own distinctive voice will soon come shining through.

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Thursday, 26 June 2014

Do Your Homework

Thanks, Lorraine for inviting me onto your blog today. I'd like to talk about research. I'm not sure if it's because I taught for so long that I pick up on tiny mistakes automatically or if I am just a pernicketty (fussy) person.

How much research is enough? I expect that depends on the writer's genre. Obviously historical fiction is going to take much more time on homework than a subject in which the author is already an expert. This could be tricky.
“OK so I'm a world renowned authority on the Dewey library system – now how do I make my novel interesting?”

So the answer is to create your own world and make up the rules as you go along, is it? That may work for some readers but I rather like there to be rules and not have “get out of jail free cards” introduced as soon as the characters get into a sticky situation.  Suddenly Thegisha remembered the dissolving walls spell her Granny had taught her as a child. Not convincing!

I was highly flattered when a well-known writer asked for my advice on the handling of certain magical or cursed items as, even though her world was fantasy, she wanted it to ring true to readers who knew something about the subject. Never, ever say “nobody will notice” because one of them will!

In these days of internet and Google etc. I find no excuse for writers getting very simple things totally wrong. I read with interest when two characters drove from Lyon to Caen in two hours. I live in France and I was wondering what they were driving – a Harrier jump jet?

Also, please don't show off. There are details that are necessary and those that are plain padding. A certain male adventure novelist loves to display his in-depth knowledge of irrelevant detail such as the names of hatch covers on different types of sea-going tankers. Very clever, dear, put it away, nobody is interested.

It is a fine line to tread and I expect that many readers are not as bothered as I am. Some, I suspect, are even more so. Even in these days of electronic fact-finding, you can always ask a friend.

BIO – Ailsa Abraham retired early from a string of jobs, ending up with teaching English to adults. She has lived in France for over twenty years and is married with no children but six grandchildren. Her passion is motorbikes which have taken the place of horses in her life now that ill-health prevents her riding. She copes with Bipolar Condition, a twisted spine and increasing deafness with her usual wry humour – “well if I didn't have all those, I'd have to work for a living, instead of writing, which is much more fun.”. Her ambition in life is to keep breathing and maybe move back to the UK. She has no intention of stopping writing.

As Ailsa Abraham :
Shaman's Drum published by Crooked Cat Crooked Cat
(nominated for the People's Choice Book Prize)

Four Go Mad in Catalonia – self-published, available from Smashwords

Twitter - @ailsaabraham
Facebook – Ailsa Abraham

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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Flash 500 Competition Deadlines

Entries close at midnight (UK time) 3oth June
With the entry deadlines fast approaching, you only have just over a week left to polish up those stories and poems. Don't miss out as the Flash Fiction and Humour Verse categories both close at the end of this month.

Novel Opening and Synopsis Category
This category is open for entries until the end of October.
The judges this year will be (once again) the senior editors at Crooked Cat Publishing, who are the publishers for my own (writing as Frances di Plino) D.I. Paolo Storey series of crime novels, Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes, Call It Pretending and Looking for a Reason (due out in October).
Crooked Cat Publishing cover a wide range of genres, from chick lit to horror, which is why they are the ideal judges for the competition.
Full details of all three competition categories can be found on the Flash 500 Home Page.
Hints from the Judges

No.4 – The Ending
The conclusion of any competition submission is the perfect opportunity to create a lasting impression with the judge.
Surprise is always likely to be a winner, providing it is relevant to the theme of the work and not farfetched. Such an ending requires great care in the development section of the work; whilst the judges should not have seen it coming, they must, on reflection, admire how you led up to it.
If you choose to finish your entry with a conclusion drawn from what has gone before, be sure that it is stated in an original way and, unless for a particular purpose, avoids mere repetition.
Good luck with all your writing endeavours.
Kind regards, 

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Monday, 23 June 2014

That which confuses ...

Seb from Inverness sent in a question over when to use that and when to use which. I know this is something that vexes many writers, so hope the answer helps.

Seb says: I’m not a novice writer by any means, but I can never decide what the rule is over that and which. Is there a simple way to remember?

Okay, the basic rule is this: if the sentence doesn’t need the clause (it makes sense without) you use which. If the sentence does need the clause you use that.

The car, which is green, has a manual gearbox.
The car that is green has a manual gearbox.

The two sentences look identical at first, but the meanings are not the same.

The car, which is green, has a manual gearbox. This tells us there is only one car and it has a manual gearbox. The clause (the words inside the two commas) isn’t necessary to illustrate the meaning. It is additional information and doesn’t affect the fact there is only one car and it has a manual gearbox.

The car that is green has a manual gearbox. This sentence suggests there is more than one car, but it is the car that is green that has the manual gearbox. The phrase ‘that is green’ is necessary to show clearly, of all the cars on the forecourt, it is the green one that has the manual gearbox.

The proper phrase for it is a restrictive clause because another part of the sentence depends on it. You can’t remove that clause (that is green) without changing the meaning of the sentence.

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Friday, 20 June 2014

Writing for Children - Tip 1

I have been fortunate enough recently to be invited to visit several schools and read sections from Vlad the Inhaler. The most delightful aspects of these visits are the Q&A sessions that follow the readings. The children invariably come up with questions that make me stop and think about why I included a particular character, why I chose to set Vlad in a fictional country, or why I gave him so many problems to deal with.

Today I am posting the first in my series of tips on writing for children. I hope you find them useful and, more to the point, I hope that in the future you will be able to enjoy the same amazing interaction with your own readers that I’m currently experiencing with my new fans of Vlad the Inhaler!

Tip One 
It’s important not to have preconceived ideas of what makes a good children’s book. Allow yourself to think freely and the inspiration will flow.

Try not to think: I’m writing for children.  This could hamper your creativity, and cause you to write down to the perceived age group, instead of writing from the heart.

The story is all. It needs to grab your young audience from the outset, and take them on a bold, fast-moving roller-coaster ride, that enthrals and doesn’t let go.

Don't pad your writing with long descriptions of scenery or characters. 

If the setting is a creepy castle, it’s okay to have lots of cobwebs clinging to faces, or if you are writing a fantasy novel, the dragon’s fire can be given a complete description, but long drawn-out details about the countryside or anything similar will be a definite turn off.

Don’t be tempted to remind your readers of the plot repeatedly. Children are surprisingly good at remembering who characters are and why they are there.

The action to story ratio needs to be much higher in children’s novels than in books for adults. Keep the story moving and engage their interest, but, above all – have fun! If you do, your readers will, too.

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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Tips on Writing for Children - coming soon

Starting tomorrow, I will be posting tips every Friday on writing for children. So, if you are planning to write a children's novel, make sure to bookmark this site and also tell all your writing friends who might be interested. As well as being a creative writing tutor, I am the author of a children's trilogy, the second book of which has just been accepted for publication in 2015.

As many of you know, Vlad the Inhaler is a children’s novel aimed at ages 8 to 12 (middle grade in the USA). It has been garnering some good reviews and it is always particularly pleasing when a site dedicated to children’s and YA literature is able to give a positive thumbs up, as is the case with this review from Book Angel Topia: review of Vlad the Inhaler

“Can’t fly, can’t drink blood, and can’t even breathe half the time. No wonder your parents hid you away.”

Eleven-year-old Vlad is a vegetarian, asthmatic hupyre (half human, half vampire). On the night his parents disappear, his vampire relatives take over his castle. They keep him alive only to find out where the family treasure is hidden.

When Aunt Valentyna catches him eating a peach (his favourite food) and threatens to force him to drink blood, he knows has to escape from captivity, find some courage, and vanquish his evil vampire relatives.

Werewolves and bounty hunters are just two of the perils he faces as he sets out to save not only himself, but also the inhabitants of Malign Village.

Vlad the Inhaler, published by Little Roni Publishers, LLC,  is available online in e-book, paperback and hardback formats. Paperback and hardback copies can be ordered via your local bookshop.

Paperback copies are on sale at The Bookshop, Sabinillas, W.H. Smith in Gibraltar (Casemates Square and the airport branch), Lovereading4kids and Waterstone’s.

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